It was the most radical human-breeding experiment in American history, and no one knew how it turned out. The Repository for Germinal Choice–nicknamed the Nobel Prize sperm bank–opened to notorious fanfare in 1980, and for two decades, women flocked to it from all over the country to choose a sperm donor from its roster of Nobel-laureate scientists, mathematical prodigies, successful businessmen, and star athletes. But the bank quietly closed its doors in 1999–its founder dead, its confidential records sealed, and the fate of its children and donors unknown. In early 2001, award-winning columnist David Plotz set out to solve the mystery of the Nobel Prize sperm bank.
Plotz wrote an article for Slate inviting readers to contact him–confidentially–if they knew anything about the bank. The next morning, he received an email response, then another, and another–each person desperate to talk about something they had kept hidden for years. Now, in The Genius Factory, Plotz unfolds the full and astonishing story of the Nobel Prize sperm bank and its founder’s radical scheme to change our world.
Believing America was facing genetic catastrophe, Robert Graham, an eccentric millionaire, decided he could reverse the decline by artificially inseminating women with the sperm of geniuses. In February 1980, Graham opened the Repository for Germinal Choice and stocked it with the seed of gifted scientists, inventors, and thinkers. Over the next nineteen years, Graham’s “genius factory” produced more than two hundred children.
What happened to them? Were they the brilliant offspring that Graham expected? Did any of the “superman” fathers care about the unknown sons and daughters who bore their genes? What were the mothers like?
Crisscrossing the country and logging countless hours online, Plotz succeeded in tracking down previously unknown family members–teenage half-brothers who ended up following vastly different paths, mothers who had wondered for years about the identities of the donors they had selected on the basis of code names and brief character profiles, fathers who were proud or ashamed or simply curious about the children who had been created from their sperm samples.
The children of the “genius factory” are messengers from the future–a future that is bearing down on us fast. What will families be like when parents routinely “shop” for their kids’ genes? What will children be like when they’re programmed for greatness? In this stunning, eye-opening book, one of our finest young journalists previews America’s coming age of genetic expectations.
About the Author
David Plotz is the editor of Slate. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Rolling Stone, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and GQ, and is the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank. He won the National Press Club's Hume Award for political journalism and has been a National Magazine Award finalist. He lives with his wife, the journalist Hanna Rosin, and their children in Washington, D.C.
Advance praise The Genius Factory
“The Genius Factory is a riveting account of a truly bizarre episode in American history–Robert Graham’s crusade to save the human race. David Plotz has written a superb book about the quest for genius, and, ultimately, family.”
–Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point
“I want to start a terrific writers sperm bank, and the first seed I want in the inventory is David Plotz’s. Plotz has it all. He’s an incredible, unstoppable reporter–unrelenting yet always fair and compassionate–and a deft, witty writer. Plotz’s account of the Nobel Prize sperm bank is an absorbing, surprising, deeply human tale of deceit and megalomania, of hopes and dreams and eugenics gone wild.”
–Mary Roach, author of Stiff
“One part detective story, one part cultural snapshot, and one part just plain weird, the tale of California’s infamous Nobel Prize sperm bank is unexpectedly enthralling. David Plotz gives us the science, the business, the ambitions, and most especially the people: from founders to donors to mothers and children. A marvelous and thoroughly engaging read.”
–Atul Gawande, author of Complications
“If it weren’t so disturbingly true, The Genius Factory would be a gripping work of science fiction. David Plotz’s terrific reporting uncovers one man’s quest to ‘improve’ the species and its complex, touching, troubling, very human repercussions.”
–Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players